^ “I will not mortgage the City’s finances !” — Mayor Walsh stood firm against the USOC’s ultimatum
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The headline sums it up. The USOC — United States Olympic Committee — yesterday told our City to go to hell. No 2024 Olympic games for us. It was a stunning act of disrespect.
The day began with a hastily called presser by Mayor Walsh, who announced that no, he was not going to sign the USOC’s financial guarantee. “I will not mortgage the city’s finances,” he said, his face stiff with anger.
Four hours of tense negotiations ensued, involving the Mayor, the Boston Bid Committee, and the USOC, with — evidently — Governor Baker participating by teleconference. I could find out nothing; my sources had shut off their cell phones. Then, at 1.47 PM, I received an e-mail — in red letters, no less — telling me that Governor Baker would hold a presser at 3 pm. What was he going to say ?
Not until about 2.35 PM did we find out that the negotiations had failed, that the USOC refused to amend its requiring the City to guarantee cost overruns and that the Boston games bid was therefore finished. Did the Mayor have any regrets ? “None at all,” he said.
At 3 pm the Governor faced the press. There was anger in his face — I’ve seen him in all kinds of moods, and this was his angry mode. “All along the Senate President, the Speaker,and my office have told the committee that we had a process and that we expected we’d have an answer on about the first of August,” he said. “until a week ago nobody had a problem with that.”
The event Baker was referring to took place on Friday. Evidently the USOC told the Governor to get aboard the Bid immediately. I don’t know too many people who would react well to that, much less a Governor as sure of his command as Baker.
The USOC said it was in a hurry facing a mid-September deadline for formally submitting a bid to the International Olympic Committee. I find that argument unconvincing. Deadlines can be extended. When our Bid Committee has spent millions of dollars, hired many staffers, engaged thousands of volunteers, and devised a very detailed plan — all while being criticized and vilified at every turn — the least the USOC could do was have the Bid Committee’s back and get the mid-September deadline extended. Instead, the USOC cut everybody adrift.
I hate to write what I have written. I wanted the Games to come to Boston, wanted it very much. I am a journalist but also a citizen, and as a citizen I went all in for the games, giving the Committee pretty much all I had in me, because I liked the vision, approved of all the changes, enthused over the developments, applauded the jobs and, yes, the developers’ profits; I also wanted very much to cover a nine-year story and — personally important to me — looked forward to taking my grand-kids to the games in 2024.
But the facts are hard to gloss. Fact is that the USOC proved a dishonorable partner. Who do they think we are ? A city or a television contract ? What sort of tone-deaf entity gives ultimatums to democratically elected political leaders ? We can’t have Olympic games in Boston if the pay price is having to submit to the USOC’s mindset.
And now to the battle that took place on the ground. From the outset, the Bid Committee made one huge mistake : it presented an incomplete, sketchy bid to a dozen public meetings, as if it were the mother of all BRA design review developments. The BRA’s design review process is already well past usefulness. Meetings are packed with opponents of every detail, whereas proponents usually do not show up. Secondly, the Bid Plan was presented to a public already hepped up by the casino – anti-casino fights that took place barely 18 months ago and, in some neighborhoods, are still going on. Those anti-casino people mostly took up the anti-Olympics theme, well organized to vilify every meeting they could get to. Third, every environmentalist ultra in the City objected to the Bid Plan’s green action even though its green plan was a terrific boon. The ultras simply did not want developers for profit — whom they hold responsible for un-green ing the City — to create new greenspace.
These three constituencies added up to a ton of social media fury that the media loved reporting — it made superb copy.
No wonder that support in Boston for the Bid headed downward right up until recently. As the Olympic meetings moved from one neighborhood to the next, it alienated one neighborhood after the other. The Committee seemed at a loss how to deal with this. Most were planning specialists , quiet gentle people entirely ill equipped to confront dogged, inflammatory opponents.
All kinds of weaponry brandished : Subpoenas, referenda, calls to give the Bid to Los Angejes, mountains of quizzical accountings from Olympic Games in other cities — a mountain of quibble and squabble, detours and kaleidoscopy that made the City look like a house of cray-cray.
It didn’t matter much that new Bid chairman Steve Pagliuca oversaw the issuing of a much better Plan 2.0 because by then, the battle between supporters and opponents had already blown up to full combat mode.
Still, about six weeks ago, the Committee figured out that as the Olympic games are a sports event, they ought to lead with sports figures — Olympians galore and David Ortiz — and that it would be smart to set loose its thousands of sports-loving volunteers to canvass neighborhoods and sign up new volunteers all over the City, especially in communities of color, where opposition was slight and the need for jobs high. Unfortunately, this change of tactic, too — wise though it was — came too late for the USOC’s hurry.
In addition, at all times the huge elephant in the Olympic sandwich was the question of cost overruns. As we see, this question was never settled — probably was never addressed realistically; indemnification agreements were needed, and no one that late in the game would step up to sign one — and when Mayor Walsh finally called the question, the USOC said “nothing doing.”
And there you have it. A huge opportunity lost, to drive change in the City — change that is going to happen anyway, and with a finality that boggles mouldy minds and ultra insisters.– and give us a grand sports party to boot. I’m sorry for our City, sorry for our sports community, and sad for my grand-kids who now will not see the games here at home.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere